Site Visit: Martha Washington Hotel

By Kelsey Ogletree, April 18, 2015

In a cool juxtaposition of old and new, Martha Washington Hotel has reopened in Manhattan with the intriguing tagline “exclusively for everyone.” It’s a modern spin on the history of the hotel, which originally opened in 1903 as an extended-stay property exclusively for women—the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Veronica Lake and Judy Garland are rumored to have roamed the halls—and remained that way until the mid-1990s when gender laws were changed.

After undergoing a $30 million transformation, the brand-new, 261-room Martha Washington Hotel had a soft opening in September 2014 and was officially unveiled in February 2015 under the Chelsea Hotels brand, which includes McCarren Hotel & Pool, Ruschmeyer’s and Hotel Chelsea, coming in 2016. Its striking color palette of black, white and cherry red was inspired by the women who stayed there—the “kind of women with an edge,” says Jim Zito, executive vice president and chief revenue officer for Chelsea Hotels, also noting the 1967 cult favorite “Valley of the Dolls” was filmed there. “We were playing off this bad-girl image. Internally, we were discussing the cherry tree, saying, ‘It wasn’t George who chopped it down, it was Martha.’”

In total, Martha Washington Hotel has about 7,000 square feet of naturally lit meeting space, depending on how it’s broken down. A 2,700-sq.-ft. room can be divided into up to four sections, and a 1,150-sq.-ft. terrace is a popular alfresco option. The hotel’s location in the hip NoMad (North of Madison Square Park) area of Manhattan is a draw for groups looking for something outside Midtown and Times Square. “This property offers a unique solution in an area that’s up and coming,” notes Zito. “It wasn’t on a planner’s radar three years ago.” Originally an “untapped Manhattan,” the restaurant scene in NoMad has grown significantly over the last three to five years and is becoming a destination in itself, says Zito.

The hotel’s own restaurant, Marta (shown above), and its catering team specialize in creative, customized menus. Zito says one of the most interesting items he’s seen was a squash, olive oil and cashew cake, a savory confection with a sugar crust served as dessert at a luncheon event for a hospitality association. “You watched the initial fork reaction, and people were tentative, but by the third bite, everyone had devoured their cake,” he says.

Insider Tip: It’s hard to score a table at Marta, says Zito, but there’s a way around it: Opt to eat in the hotel lounge. You can order anything on the menu, no reservation required.

Photo credit: Jonathan Chesley

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